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Love’s Labors Are Never Lost

BU People: Michael Walker pushes technology by day and Shakespeare by night

“I get really impatient and bored with myself if I don’t have some kind of creative project going at any given time,” says Michael Walker (GRS’96).

By day, Michael Walker (GRS’96) pushes the technology of the procurement process at BU deeper into the 21st century, implementing functions that let University buyers compare the offerings of several suppliers in a few seconds’ time.

By night, he recites lines written in the 16th century about events that supposedly happened in ancient Rome. Walker, a manager of e-procurement in the Office of Purchasing Services, helped found the Actors’ Shakespeare Project in 2004. In that second capacity, he is about to begin rehearsing for the March opening of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus.

Procurement, Walker says, is a more-than-interesting vocation, particularly in an age when buying processes are moving online and customers are seeing advantages that just a few years ago were impossible. But theater is his avocation.

“I love the rewards of collaborative artistic work,” he says. “The results can be genuinely rich and cathartic, both for performers and audience. The relationships formed in that context can be equally rewarding too, whether they turn out to be short-lived or long-term.”

Theater is, however, just one of Walker’s passions.  There is also his latest rock group, Pink Mantis, which includes his wife, Sandy, his sister Ann, and longtime collaborator Kevin James. The group, which hopes to play at local venues like the Middle East and Great Scott, is finishing up production work on its first CD.

“There’s a compulsive streak in me,” Walker says. “I get really impatient and bored with myself if I don’t have some kind of creative project going at any given time. If I don’t have a collaborative scenario in hand, I write music in isolation or find an outlet in visual art, which is conducive to working alone.”
 
Walker’s resume is unusually varied; its literary section begins with a master’s degree earned from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1996. At the time, his aspirations were similar to those of many other recent MAs — he wanted a doctorate, specifically, a doctorate in renaissance drama. So continuing at BU, he set out to get one. Along the way, however, he tired of the haphazard work schedule — juggling teaching jobs at area colleges —required to pay the bills. When Walker saw an opportunity in 2001 to earn a steady paycheck by applying his energy and ideas to the University’s Office of Purchasing Services, he signed on. Since then, he has been nudging the purchasing processes at BU toward state of the art.

Evenings, however, are reserved for his first love. After several years of directing and acting with different local theater companies, Walker now puts all of his theatrical energy into the Actors’ Shakespeare Project.  The group, which has no home theater, has recently found itself performing its three yearly productions in increasingly prestigious venues. Last year’s production of King Lear, for example, started in the College of Fine Arts Studio 102 and ended up running for a month off-Broadway. The New York performances required Walker to take month’s leave of absence, something he says was granted with encouragement and best wishes.

“They were great about it,” he says. “And it was a great experience. One of the best things about any kind of art is that it provides occasions to contemplate a range of experiences beyond your own. It helps us make sense of the profound questions that life throws at us. At the same time, it provides us with a chance to re-create ourselves. We all need that.”

Over the years, Walker has re-created himself in a variety of roles. “I’ve played everything from the heavy to the incompetent bumbling coward,” he says.

In the upcoming Titus, Walker’s part is Lucius, the heroic son of the main character. He says he expects that relatively heroic role to present a nice change. At least until his next role. Because in his art, as in his life, Michael Walker is very tough to stereotype.

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.